Dominican Republic right-wing politician, dictator 1930–61, and president 1930–38 and 1942–52. As commander of the Dominican Guard, he seized power from President Horacio Vasquez and was elected president unopposed. He established a ruthless autocracy, aided by a powerful terroristic police force and murder squads, his personal control over much the economy, and his manipulation of ‘puppet presidents’. There was economic progress and impressive public works projects, but at the cost of political repression and strained relations with neighbouring states, where he tried to foment right-wing revolutions. He was assassinated by military leaders in May 1961.
During what was an exceptionally tight and personal dictatorship, Trujillo owned all the mass media and the transport and communications systems in the Dominican Republic as well as 80% of the land and the country' banks, services, and utilities. He also owned around 45% of all sources of production, created his own political party, the Dominican Party, and renamed the capital, Santo Domingo, ‘Trujillo City’. In 1937 Dominican troops entered Haiti and massacred 10,000 Haitians in a campaign against Haitian infiltration. His regime was censured by the Organization of American States (OAS) and economic sanctions were imposed. Between 1939 and 1941, and from 1953, as foreign minister, he retained political dominance through puppet presidents. After his assassination he was succeeded as army chief by his older son, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, Jr, for five months.
Trujillo was born in San Cristóbal, into a middle-class family. He worked on a sugar estate before being trained by US Marines during the US military occupation of 1916–24. He rose to become a brigadier general and commander of the Dominican Guard, and served as army chief under Vasquez before ousting him in 1930.
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